Monday, June 01, 2009

21st Century Skills: My Personal Mission Statement

Dear Friends,

There has been a lot of talk recently for and against “21st Century Skills”.

Part of the debate has raged around the goings-on of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. As I’ve previously addressed the matter on, it is my opinion as a paperless classroom teacher that whatever the motivations and self-interests of the board members of P21, their version of “21st Century Skills” just ain’t my version of “21st Century Skills”.

P21 is holding a 2009 ‘Cyber Summit on 21st Century Skills’ starting today, June 1st. As an educator deeply involved in educational technology, I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the free registration and see what they had to offer.

What they’ve got to offer is a site 'powered by' We Are Teachers: the "Knowledge Marketplace".

I could not have come up with a better descriptor for everything I find discouraging about P21.

Schools are not and should not be “marketplaces” of anything. They are learning environments. They are academies. They are workshops. They are temples of education. Fields of knowledge. But they are not and should not be marketplaces.

But, perhaps P21 put as little time into thinking about the slogans of their 'powerers' as they did coming up with a meaningful mission statement.

As has been mentioned countless times by countless observers, there is little if anything in P21’s Mission Statement and accompanying selection of skills that has anything to do specifically with the 21st century. I fear that more than anything, the board’s weak statement only serves to undermine much of the valuable work we educators and educational technologists have accomplished independent of P21.

This becomes all the more pressing given the recent attempts at P21-approved legislation and corporate marketing in relation thereof.

And that’s why I am writing this, my personal mission statement of 21st Century Skills.


Serve the children who will live out their lives in the 21st century by building collaborative partnerships between families, communities, and educators independent of any proprietary business interests. Teach the deep reflective understanding of global historical, philosophical, creative, and intellectual content via the best methods 21st century technology and networking have to offer and may in the future offer and teach how to use and how to think about what the best innovations 21st century technology and networking have to offer and may in the future offer by teaching the deep reflective understanding of global historical, philosophical, creative, and intellectual content.

Every child in America deserves to be treated as a citizen of the 21st century. Every child in America deserves an education that treats them first as human beings who will live out their life in the immediate globally connected world of the 21st century.

There is a profound gap between 20th century manufactured education and its accompanying textbook-based bubble test knowledge and the reality of a shift in the authority of knowledge as made clear by the democratic and participatory technologies of the 21st century. Our students deserve better than to be sold a textbook or its online equivalent. Our students deserve an education that bears an awareness of and an engagement with the multifaceted and ever evolving connected network we call humanity.

Students of the 21st century will know that ‘rigor’ means ‘stiffness’ and we the teachers will abandon such arbitrary ed speak in favor of addressing the real needs of the families and communities that we serve. Students should be made aware that most of what we predict about future career and workforce markets is complete nonsense. Students should learn that socio-economics effects the results of institutionalized education. Students should learn that standardized testing completely fails in predicting individual lifetime achievement. And students will learn that education is not about the ability to get a job, but rather is about the ability to transcend whatever position or situation one finds oneself in throughout a lifetime.

My version of specific 21st Century Skills includes:
• Critical Media Network Skills: the ability in a networked environment to recognize when you are being taken advantage of via special interests and the ability to argue within the dominant paradigm of a global network with acuity and accuracy based upon the application of historical, philosophical, creative, and intellectual skills grounded in the history of human thought and applied to the spontaneity and immediate global impact of 21st century networked communications.

• Participatory and Networked Information and Communication Skills: the ability to take part in one’s global society on equal footing with any other human via the immediacy and power of digital networks. Long-term, this may mean sharing any variety of networked consciousnesses.

• Collaborative Social Meta-Thinking: the ability to learn from and give back to both local community-based and global-based digital social networks. This may extend in future environments to nanotechnology merging with on-demand personalized virtual reality.

• Creative Network Confidence and Digital Community Stewardship: the ability to use the global network for both the purposes of creative problem solving and for the benefit of peaceful co-existence between peoples, animals, ecologies, and environments.

• Digital Cunning: students will learn that merely ‘using technology’ does not mean that you are either educated in or are a contributing member to the global network. Drawing on a strong Liberal Arts background merged with Digital Age critical thinking skills, students will be able to distinguish between participatory media and authoritarian media even when the latter cloaks itself as the former.

• Awareness of Digital History and Digital Divide: the ability to understand historical analog modalities and to recognize the value of pre-digital and non-digital media as well as the temporary nature of specific technologies within historical evolution; the ability to understand and through social action compensate for and help to eliminate digital distinctions based on economics, politics, geography, and race.


I am 100% for teaching content via 21st century skills and 21st century skills via content. I do this every day. Ed tech savvy teachers throughout this country do this everyday.

So, why are there no individual day-to-day classroom teachers on the board of P21?

Tech savvy students are learning like this throughout this country everyday.

So, why are there no students on the board of P21?

In schoolhouse lingo, I could only declare teachers and students 'absent' from the board of P21. And until that absence is rectified, the board will only symbolize the top-down old-fashioned 20th century style of management that's gotten us into so many of the problems that as a nation we currently face.

We don’t need a board comprised mostly of corporate interests telling us what’s good for our children whilst they busily turn them into the consumers of tomorrow. What we need is leadership by a truly independent movement of sophisticated and tech-savvy 21st century classroom teachers who for far too long have been seen as the ‘users’ of technology rather than the ‘creators’ of education.

Shelly Blake-Plock
teacher, artist, blogger

ps - And just for the record, sending Cookie Monster out there as the feel-good face of corporate power is nothing less than tremendously disturbing to the childhood memories of many of us kids born in the '70s'.

FYI: Partnership for 21st Century Schools board members currently represent Intel, Pearson, AASL, Education Networks of America, Junior Achievement, Adobe, Apple, ASCD, Atomic Learning, Blackboard, Cable in the Classroom, Cisco, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Dell, ETS, EF Education, Ford, Gale, HP, K12, Knowledge Works Foundation,, Learning Point Associates, Lego, Lenovo, McGraw Hill, Measured Progress, Microsoft, NEA, Oracle, PolyVision, Quarasan, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop, Sun Microsystems, Thinkronize, Verizon, and Wireless Generation.


  1. Great and thought-provoking post; thank you. Will re-tweet. Am requesting a few periods in 'graph one, however. ;-)

  2. I have highlighted a number of portions of this post to share with others.

    I know that "where I live" where I live, educational leaders pay a great deal of lip service to technology, but they do not conceive of a new learning paradigm. In fact they are not themselves engaged in online collaborations as co-learners.

  3. @Shelley -- Thanks. And the grammar is now fixed.

  4. Great, thought provoking read. Makes me realize how un-visioned I am about the future of technology. I agree that teachers and students are every day integrating tech skills and content. I only wish I did more of it, and I work on adding additional tech content all the time.

    I wish I was brave enough and had the resources to be paperless as well. My favorite projects to grade have been the paperless ones.

    Thank you!

  5. Great post. Thanks for sharing. In spirit of transparancy, I am CEO and founder of WeAreTeachers (WAT) -- so my comments are influenced by that work. I TOTALLY understand and support that we need TEACHERS more actively engaged with this discussion. This is one of the big reasons we believe the WAT platform was selected by the P21 Partnership leaders for this Cyber Summit. I know they share that view. Yup -- at WAT we do have a 'knowledge marketplace' -- -because we believe teachers who create content deserve to be published and compensated for their work. And we think there should be a place where great content can be accessed and purchased easily - BUT based on Teacher Recommendations -- not just a catalogue listing.The CENTRAL purpose of WAT is its value proposition for teachers -- to help them connect, collaborate, engage. But we also try to connect companies in the education space directly to teachers --- to ensure collaboration occurs there as well. We look carefully at the needs of teachers. Then we seek corporate sponsors to help fund and support things that really matter to teachers. Like Microgrants for supporting creativity. Or a scholarship program for inner city youth. Or a grant to support environmental education. We are stil learning, but we hope to help find that critical interection where 'what teachers need and 'what companies might provide' can intersect. We want to help connect dots that promote proper and useful conversations between end-user teachers and those commercial providers who publish great content. And the P21 forum is a great partner for that discussion -- and even controversy --- a very healthy thing in this connected world to move the needle in a positive way. Thanks again for a valuable discussion!

  6. Brillian post. Even the comments are worth reading.

  7. I appreciate your personal mission statement and the list of necessary skills for the 21st century, great post.


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